Thursday, October 15, 2009

Finally! Plus – Big News for Wake County

Okay – I am finally posting something after what, 4 months?! Hopefully that won’t happen again, but…when family (immediate and extended) calls, things like this take a backseat, which is how it should be, of course. Anyway, a lot has happened – too much to try and catch up on. Those who read this post probably already know most of it anyway.

The biggest news was the outcome of the Wake County school board elections last week. Out of four seats up for grabs, three were won outright by candidates calling for a closer look at Wake County’s reassignment policies. Massive busing has been questioned, as well as the forcing of year-round school attendance. The fourth seat will be decided in a November run-off election between Cathy Truitt and John Tedesco. Tedesco was less than 50 votes shy of a majority, while a third candidate, the incumbent, Horace Tart, was defeated.

Rather than rehash news that has been very much in the media, I’m just going to post a couple of things I wrote myself. The first is an email I sent out to friends the day before the election. I wrote the second letter in response to immediate “spin” that hit the day following the election.


1st email -  day before election 

I realize that many of you will not get this email by tomorrow, but I hope you will read it for informational purposes anyway.

Tomorrow is, in my opinion, one of the most important “off-year” elections Wake County has ever had. Even though we have all had our fill of candidate and media bombardment strategies, it is vital that we vote, and that we spread the word to as many citizens as possible. The School Board race is especially critical, and four districts (1, 2, 7, and 9) will be voting on members. Check here if you’re not sure about your district.

I am in district 7, and will be voting for Deborah Prickett. I have met her, and I believe her when she says that she will have families’ best interests in mind should she be elected. Just FYI, many who support Prickett are also urging support for Tedesco, Goldman, and Malone. I hope if you live in their districts that you have already checked out candidates’ websites for yourself.

I have a lot to say, but the hour is getting late and my back is getting too old to sit at a computer all day! Allow me to just pass on to you some general information that has been on my mind for quite awhile – information pertaining to two subject areas that have been a major focal point for candidates and many others. I won’t have time to share all of my findings, but will just highlight some facts that you haven’t heard or read in the media. This is just FYI, because I think citizens need to hear all sides of an issue. In the interest of getting this out ASAP, I will skip background information, except to say that I have been intimately involved with the mandatory year-round school issue for about ten years. I have based the bulk of my opinions on facts and data gathered through thorough and exhaustive research, and have respectfully shared my findings with leaders on a local and statewide level.

First of all, some new information – strictly data, no opinions - for those who continue to claim that year-round schools are a money-saving venture:

Late last week I asked the WCPSS for, and promptly received, data showing the 20th-day enrollment figures for each individual school in Wake County. Let’s look at a few of the schools that were converted from traditional to mandatory year-round in 2007-08.

Ballentine Elementary: capacity prior to YR conversion, 761

                                    current enrollment, 668

Knightdale Elementary: capacity prior to YR conversion, 616

                                     current enrollment, 528

Lockhart Elementary: capacity prior to YR conversion, 885

                                 current enrollment, 728

Wakefield Elementary: capacity prior to YR conversion, 1,009

                                    current enrollment, 831

These are just some of the examples of converted MYR schools in which the current YR enrollment figure is less than the capacity figure when they were traditional. Wake County’s explanation for that has been that they couldn’t fill the YR schools because they had to have parents’ permission to assign students there. But the May 1, 2009 ruling by the state Supreme Court knocked that reasoning out of the picture. Now, even with the authority to assign students to YR schools against parents’ wishes, enrollment is down, and tracks are being dropped left and right (a story in and of itself).

Which leads me to the cost issue:

Again, using data supplied directly from the WCPSS, I compared energy expenditures for the 20 converted schools. In 18 of those schools, the energy cost per pupil rose during the first year of conversion (2007-2008). That is to be expected, of course, largely due to air-conditioning costs during the hot summer months. What is revealing, however, is the percentage increase in some of these schools. Just looking at the elementary schools listed above:

Ballentine: 21.7% increase in per pupil energy cost

Knightdale: 49% increase in per pupil energy cost

Lockhart: 23.1%increase in per pupil energy cost

Wakefield: 30.7% increase in per pupil energy cost

At Rand Road Elementary, where enrollment has consistently dropped since 2006, the per-pupil energy cost increased 59.2% the year it was converted. Hodge Road Elementary saw a 54.8% per pupil increase that same year.

To anyone who has taken the time to research and study the irrefutable facts surrounding districts across our nation who have tried massively mandating year-round school attendance, one thing is clear – it is NOT a cost-saving measure! The vast majority of these districts ended up converting back to a traditional calendar, with increased cost being one of the main reasons. I could fill pages with examples, but suffice it to say that this has been, and continues to be, the MYR track record for decades. Just this year, Virginia Beach school board members voted to convert 4 year-round elementary schools back to a traditional schedule, citing a savings of $792,000 for the district. According to the Virginia Pilot (, an assistant superintendent that helped start the YR program recommended ending it, stating, “It’s the right thing to do…the wonderful things teachers do for the children…will not go away. Year-round is a schedule. Our teachers will still provide for these children.”

Also, the following numbers about transportation expenditures before and after the 2007 conversions should be of great interest to Wake citizens.

A quote from a WCPSS staff member -

“Transportation Department staff compared the monthly cost for July & August 2006 with the same months in 2007 to estimate a difference in cost for transportation of year-round students.  For July & August 2006, the average cost for each of the 2 months was $232,000 and for 2007, $472,000.” 


“Ms Lee, my understanding is that the costs were the actual costs for system-wide transportation for the two months.  Thus, the data would show the cost for transportation for the schools in session in July/August 2006 as compared with those in 2007; those months were selected because most of the buses would be for multi-track schools.”

Unless I’m figuring something wrong, the system-wide transportation expenses just during the combined two months of July and August more than doubled during the first year of massive YR conversions, rising from close to half a million dollars ($464,000) in 2006 to close to a million ($944,000) in 2007. By the way, according to data from the US Department of Energy, diesel prices dropped during that interval.

I’ll stop there, hoping that you understand a little more of the “rest of the story”.

Secondly, I continue to be amazed ( and disappointed) at the number of individuals and groups  who have been using the word "diversity" to directly or indirectly push citizens to vote for certain candidates. I resent the implication, or in some instances, outright accusations, that anyone who speaks the words, "I am against the FORCING of year-round school attendance" really means, "Let's return to the days of segregated schools". That is preposterous!

In my opinion, lower income families and/or minorities have been ignored, pushed around, taken advantage of, and treated as if they can't even think for themselves. The strategy of select fact-sharing has resulted in a skewed idea of what the true picture looks like.

Take, for instance, the WRAL/ News and Observer poll in 2006. When asked about year-round schools, 52% of Blacks (that's the wording of the poll) and 52% of Latinos either opposed YR schools altogether or thought that they should be optional only. Fact ignored.

In the spring of 2007, I attended a press conference that African American leaders held. I prefer to have first-hand accounts before I speak on anything. The purpose of the meeting was to encourage members of the black community to return the required (at that time) year-round consent forms – an excellent idea – and I saw and spoke with several leaders that I know. First thing, all attendees were called onto the stage to stand together in support of the WCPSS and the School Board. Some were hesitant, whispering that they came to get information, but none-the-less felt the pressure to go forward. Though it was heavily implied, only one speaker actually came out and told these citizens that they must check “yes” to year-rounds. My greatest concern, however, was the heavy emphasis on this thought: year-round=diversity, traditional=segregation. It’s one thing to wonder if reassignment plans will negatively affect diversity percentages. But to blatantly put the thought in people’s minds that if they choose traditional for their child, they are leaning towards the days of segregation? I have a real problem with that, and I certainly hope most others do as well. These parents – ALL parents – deserve to know the facts and make an educated decision, on their own, with no hints of coercion.

Sorry this is so long, but this is really only a drop in the bucket in the area of information that is not made public. I would also encourage you to continue to read and watch the news for the breaking story of an extensive and very important SAS communication (largely focusing on questionable academic growth data for a targeted group of students) that the WCPSS administration kept secret for months, until a school board member happened to hear about it, and the story was brought to light on Friday.

Thanks for letting me share this with you. Even if you consider this “junk mail”, at least get out and vote on Tuesday!


2nd email – day after election

This was not an election about "whites" vs "blacks, and anyone who spins it that way is, in my opinion, either extremely uninformed, or only trying to fan the fires of racism.

This election was about parents - no matter what their income or skin color - having a say-so in their child's education. It was about facts, warnings, pleas, suggestions, and logical reasoning being ignored for many, many years.

Many of you know that I have fought for over ten years for parents to have a voice when it comes to the best way to educate their particular child. Last night I came across the rough copy of a letter I had sent - by snail mail :^) - to School Board members almost exactly nine years ago. Members were getting ready to vote back then on whether or not to mandate year-round school attendance. I implored them to please "consider carefully the long-term ramifications" of their decision, which would "affect the unity of our school system for years to come."

Since that time, School Board members and other local and state leaders have been supplied with a steady diet of irrefutable facts about the subject - facts that were presented in an effort to balance out the one-sided information being fed to them by WCPSS staff. Through one-on-one meetings, 3-minute talks during their open sessions, emails, letters, phone calls - you name it - board members through the years were kept well-informed on what had happened, and what would happen, to districts who insisted upon the massive forcing of year-round school attendance.

In spite of a dismal (at best) national track-record, in spite of our administrations own findings that MYR schools were not the best way to go, in spite of legitimate suggestions on other ways to deal with growth, in spite of questionable information and/or select fact-sharing strategies from staff, in spite of thousands of concerned citizens speaking out in volumes over the period of just a few weeks, in spite of red flags going up all over the place about added costs, flight of supportive families and dedicated teachers, dangers to the growing population of latchkey children, hardships related to childcare - oh the list goes on and on - in spite of all this and more, the majority of the School Board finally chose to brush these things aside and go ahead with the plan to convert 22 schools to MYR.

I say mandatory because that's what they were until Judge Manning's ruling in May, 2007. Even after that, the rightful "choice" his ruling granted to parents, was often to a traditional school of unknown location or so absurdly far away that parents hardly considered it a choice at all.

That's when I first heard the word "segregation" being spoken in the same breath as "traditional calendar schools". I was appalled. Yet now, this same ugly monster is raising its head again.

Let me ask you something. Do you really think, REALLY, that these new board members are going to waltz in and talk the citizens of Wake County into suddenly throwing low income and/or minority children "under the bus" so to speak? Please. That is just not going to happen. Sure, there will no doubt be changes to Wake County's diversity policy, just like there were changes in 2007 when massive busing to YR schools began. But parents were told then that change is good - that they were just being ignorant, or selfish, or afraid, not to embrace it with open arms.

How quickly some folks forget that PRIOR TO the CURRENT "diversity policy" in Wake County, our school system was held up as a shining example to the rest of the country. Our superintendent was chosen as the national Superintendent of the Year, and education leaders were bursting with pride at the success of our school system.

Did we have fear-inciting headlines, getting people into a panic wondering what horrible fate awaited our school children when that policy changed? Did certain individuals or groups try to influence the outcome of subsequent elections by scaring people into thinking the end of our successful school system was just around the corner? Did respected community leaders rise up with implications (accusations?) that all of the progress gained since the merger of Wake County's two school systems (city and county) would soon be lost? Of course not - because the change was going their way.

My first year of teaching was the year of the merger, as a matter of fact, and my class definitely reflected the changes that were brought about as a result of that action. I did not teach in Raleigh, but in a school further out in the county. That "diverse" group of students endeared themselves to my heart, and I am still in touch with some of them to this day.

When I looked at those children, I didn't "see" the color of their skin or how ragged their clothes looked. I saw an opportunity to be a positive influence in their lives - to educate each one the very best that I could - to show them that someone cared and loved them for who they were, not for what they were.

Citizens of Wake County, we need to move past our grown-up theories, our tendencies to blow things out of proportion, and our stereotypes. We need to set an example for students (I have one) who are carefully watching our reactions to an election that was controversial, but nevertheless, fair. They are the reason we even have a school board election.

I will continue to be as passionate as ever about parental input into the education of their own children. I will also be ever vigilant in my efforts to see that ALL students are afforded every opportunity possible to reach their full potential. I believe that each one of us shares that same goal.

Congratulations to the winners, and best of luck to those still in the running. To those who lost - I expect to see you still "out there", continuing to stand up for what you believe is best for the children of Wake County. That is, when all is said and done, what unites us all.


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